Let's take in a little bit of history. Back in 794 A.D. Kyoto stood as Japan's capital. It served as such until 1867 when the capital was moved to Tokyo. As a commemoration of Kyoto's glory days and to celebrate the 1100th anniversary of Kyoto's establishment, the people built the Heian Shrine in 1895. It features a 2/3 scale recreation of the Imperial Palace of the State Hall (Daigoku-den-den) and was dedicated to Emperor Kanmu and Emperor Komei, the first and last emperors to rule while Kyoto was the country's capital. These emperors were deified according to Shinto beliefs.
The Heian Jingu is a Shinto shrine that contains several fascinating examples of Japanese architecture. Aside from the Daigoku-den-den (which is the main hall), other buildings are also 2/3 scale reconstitutions that hark back to the golden era of Kyoto. There is the Soryu-ro, the Byakko-ro, Oten-mon and the Ryubi-dan. Other structures of interest include the Shobi-Kan, the Saikan, the Taihei-kaku, the Administration Building and the Memorial Hall. The predominant color for the buildings is vermillion.
To enter the shrine, you have to get past the Torii Gate, which stands 24 meters high. To go further, you need to purify yourself at the water basin near the Outer Sanctuary. Meiji-era gardens enclose the Heian Shrine and present different personalities that suit a particular season. The Minami Shin'en (South Garden) represents the glory of spring (with its weeping cherry blossoms), autumn (with its Japanese bush clover) and early summer (with its azaleas). This Heian-style garden has inspired many to compose Japanese poems, most of which are odes to the cherry blossom. This garden is opened during the summer and spring and is a favorite venue for concerts and other cultural events.
Meanwhile, the Nishi Shin'en (West Garden) is glorious during early summer, when its irises are in full bloom. The garden also has an arbor called Chosin-tei, which is perfect for tea ceremonies. The Higashi Shin'en (East Garden) also has a pond and uses the Higashiyama hills as a backdrop to its delicate beauty. The Naka Shin'en (Middle Garden) surrounds the Soryu-ike pond with pretty rabbit-ear irises. Its highlight is the Garyu-kyo, a walkway of stone pillars from the foundation stones of two bridges in Kyoto, the Sanjo and Gojo Ohashi. Of these gardens, the Minami Shin'en is probably the most beautiful, especially during April. However, a fee is charged for entry into the garden.
The Heian Jingu is the site of one of Kyoto's most important festivals – the Jidai Matsuri or Festival of the Ages. This annual event commemorates the founding of Kyoto with a grand and colorful parade. It involves over 2,000 people garbed in costumes harking back from different periods in Kyoto history. The parade, which is several kilometers long, starts at the original location of the Imperial Palace and ends at the Heian Jingu. The portable shrines (mikoshi) of the revered Emperors Kammu and Komei are also carried during the parade. This festival is held every October.
Now, if you missed this festival, you can try visiting the shrine in June, where the Takigi Noh is performed in front of the main hall. Noh is a Japanese performing art that incorporates poetry, drama, music, and dance into one fascinating act. Actors dress in elaborate costumes and put on masks. The performance is accompanied by music from traditional musical instruments and a chorus. The Takigi Noh is performed by torchlight.
The Heian Jingu is another jewel located in Kyoto. Relive the golden days of this glorious city and be enthralled with this combination of natural beauty, architecture and culture.